Lee To Succeed Johnson at BET

BET founder Robert L. Johnson has relinquished his post as CEO of the black-targeted network, making way for longtime No. 2 Debra Lee to succeed him.

Johnson will remain chairman of the Viacom division until he retires in January. Lee will then become both chairman and CEO. The network, which turned 25 in January, has begun a search for a new head of programming.

Lee says her focus will be producing more originals—the mix of music, entertainment and comedy shows and specials that currently does the heavy lifting for the network. She will also focus on BET's ancillary businesses, aiming to grow distribution for 10-year-old BET Jazz as well as increase's presence. “BET is such a great brand, it makes sense to keep expanding,” she says.

Lee, 50, joined BET as VP/general counsel in 1986. She later served as president of its publishing division and was named president/COO in 1996. Viacom bought BET for $2.5 billion in 2001 but has kept it a separate division rather than folding it into MTV Networks. Further realignment of the company's divisions is expected within the next month or so.—J.M.H./A.B.

Cha Cha Goes Ka-ching! for ABC

ABC's fancy footwork may have translated into network broadcasting's first off-season hit.

Its debut of reality show Dancing With the Stars drew a 4.2 rating/12 share, its biggest Nielsen overnight rating in the 18-49 demo since the season ended a week ago and enough to push it to a nightly win June 1 in the demo with a 3.3/10.

The show, which would tend to skew older since it was ballroom dancing, had a big household number, averaging more than 13 million viewers.

In Dancing With the Stars, celebrities—including boxer Evander Holyfield and actor John O'Hurley (J. Peterman on Seinfeld)—are teamed with professional ballroom dancers in an audience vote-off contest to see which team can trip the light most fantastically.—J.E.

Death of Bill In Texas Boosts TW, EchoStar

Time Warner Cable and EchoStar Communications are the likely beneficiaries of the death of a Texas bill that would have made it easier for telephone companies to get into the video business.

Telcos SBC Communications and Verizon had lobbied Texas legislators to let them offer video services without acquiring cable franchises in every town, an argument telcos are making on the national front as well (see related story, page 12).

Both companies are extensively rebuilding their phone systems to deliver cable and phone services over the same wire.

The process of negotiating with cities for franchises could delay the telcos' rollout for years.

Sanford Bernstein & Co. cable analyst Craig Moffett says that would benefit Time Warner, which serves Texas' biggest cities, Houston and Dallas.

It could also boost EchoStar, whose Dish Network is currently resold by SBC. Those sales have slowed as SBC prepared to launch cable service, but if SBC is delayed, the telco could keep pushing EchoStar harder than expected.—J.M.H.

Chappelle Reaps More DVDends

The early returns are in, and comedian Dave Chappelle continues to display the biggest backend in the business.

Chappelle's Show: Season 2 Uncensored, released May 31 on DVD, broke first-day and seven-day sales records for TV shows on DVD, selling nearly 500,000 units the day it was released and more than 1.2 million units the first seven days. That makes it the fastest-selling “TV on DVD” title in history, according to Comedy Central.

The DVD's release, postponed from February, was supposed to coincide with last week's scheduled premiere date for the series' third season on the network. But the new episodes were postponed indefinitely when Chappelle fled to a “spiritual retreat” in South Africa earlier in the month.

Chappelle, apparently revitalized from his South Africa trip, was sighted in his hometown, Yellow Springs, Ohio. He performed impromptu standup acts at two L.A. comedy clubs, telling audiences he had just arrived from LAX and was yearning to entertain.

Production on the series' third season, which was to premiere May 31, has been postponed indefinitely.

The series' first-season DVD is the best-selling domestic TV-on-DVD title, having sold nearly 3 million copies since it was released Feb. 24, 2004, according to VideoScan. In the past, Viacom has singled out Chappelle's DVD sales as a big boost to its bottom line.—A.B.

OLN Gets 10 Seasons Of 'Survivor'

Survivor repeats are going directly to cable.

Comcast's Outdoor Life Network has bought exclusive syndication rights to the first 10 seasons of Mark Burnett's CBS reality hit Survivor from King World.

OLN will launch the first-season repeats July 24 following its coverage of Lance Armstrong's last ride in the Tour de France.

The deal, struck with King World, is for the 160 episodes of the first 10 installments, plus an option on seasons 11 and 12.

OLN will use its biggest programming deal ever to promote original-program launches and will package the shows into themes: for example, “Most Villainous Characters.” (It will also run them in order.)—J.E.

WB's 'Beauty' Could Be Back Midseason

After a solid opening for The WB's Beauty and the Geek, network Entertainment President David Janollari says a second installment of the reality show could return to the schedule by the beginning of next year.

The Ashton Kutcher-produced show, which pairs seven nerdy men with seven bimbo beauties in an elimination contest, debuted June 1 in second place in its 8 p.m. time slot in adults 18-34, men 18-34, and the network's target demo, women 18-34. The show, whose ratings went on the half-hour, garnered The WB's best number in women 18-34 since February.

“We'll watch closely as it airs the next couple weeks, but we think it is a long-term player for us,” Janollari says. “If all goes well, we could gear up production by early fall and be ready to air near the end of the year or the beginning of next.”—B.G.

May Sweeps Are Kind To TBS, Spike and FX

TBS, Spike and FX were among the biggest winners in the May Nielsen ratings, while ESPN, ESPN2, TLC and CNN were some of the biggest losers. Spike's total audience zoomed 80%, largely on the strength of its heavy plays of CSI reruns. TBS increased 14% largely because of better-performing theatrical movies. FX's audience rose 13%.

The single-biggest loser was ESPN2, whose audience fell a dramatic 47% because it moved some baseball games to parent network ESPN. That network, however, dropped 25% because the absence of the NHL's Stanley Cup games. TLC continued to suffer from the collapse of former hit Trading Spaces.

CNN Names New Executive Producers

In the latest attempt to juice up prime time, CNN is expected to name broadcast-news veterans as executive producers on two of its news programs.

David Doss, who has been executive producer for ABC newsmagazine Primetime Thursday and the NBC Nightly News, will be taking over Anderson Cooper's 7 p.m. show Anderson Cooper 360. He will replace Terry Baker, also a former ABC producer who worked on Nightline.

Another ABC veteran, Victor Neufeld, is the new executive producer of CNN's 8 p.m. show, Paula Zahn Now. Neufeld most recently was No. 2 at the CBS Early Show and had previously executive-produced ABC's 20/20 and Primetime Thursday. He takes over for Mark Nelson, a former National Geographic Channel exec who also spent 17 years at ABC News.

With Fox News Channel solidly out in front in ratings, new CNN President Jonathan Klein has been working furiously on the network's programming and personnel. Among his priorities is remaking the executive-producer ranks. In February, Klein ousted the top producer of Aaron Brown's 10 p.m. newscast Sharon Van Zwieten and moved American Morning top producer Will Surratt into the job.

Both Cooper's and Zahn's shows have endured turmoil at the top. The programs were once under the watch of former executive producer Jim Miller, who left in March 2004 after female staffers made complaints of inappropriate conduct.

Expect more changes out of CNN in the coming days. Longtime Washington anchor Judy Woodruff signed off Friday, and Klein is expected to unveil his new afternoon lineup.—A.R./A.B.

ESPN: The Puck Stops Here

ESPN has declined to pick up its $60 million option on the NHL for the league's 2005-06 season.

The decision was expected in the wake of hockey's declining ratings and after negotiations with the players association led to a lockout that canceled the 2004-5 season.

ESPN says in a statement, “We remain interested in a multimedia agreement that provides us with appropriate value and continue to talk with the NHL about future potential models.”

Separately, the NHL has a two-year contract with NBC to air games when they resume.

ESPN says it tried everything possible to salvage its long-standing relationship with the NHL, extending the option deadline date from April 15 to June 1, trying to negotiate a lower rights fee that would allow it to continue coverage and offering a revenue-sharing deal similar to that which the NHL has with NBC. Ultimately the league would not budge from the $60 million it wanted, said ESPN Executive VP of Programming and Production Mark Shapiro.

“We're not playing games here,” he says, without apparent irony. “We wanted to get a deal done and do something long term, but given the damage that's been done with the prolonged labor strike and the uncertainty moving forward, we really have no choice if held to a firm deadline but to pass on our option.”

ESPN will now pursue options with other leagues and permanently fill its hockey-less schedule with college sports and original programming from its ESPN Original Entertainment department, the same fare with which it filled holes left by hockey programming last season. That replacement programming commanded the same ratings as the NHL's regular season and playoffs, and made it easier to drop hockey.—A.B.

Critics Love ABC

ABC's ratings resurgence got a critics' stamp of approval Thursday, with that network claiming two of the three top nominees for TV Critics Association Awards for the 2004-05 season and the most nods overall.

The network's Desperate Housewives received the most nominations with five, followed by its Lost and Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, with four apiece.

ABC led in total nominations with 11, followed by Fox with eight—led by House and Arrested Development—and HBO with seven. The awards will be handed out July 23 in Los Angeles.

Corrections and Clarifications

“D.C. TV Stations Protest Nielsen” (5/30, page 37) should have said that a group of Washington station owners stated they would advocate government involvement to give the Media Ratings Council more authority over Nielsen Media Research ratings.

Lisa Hackner, one of the women profiled in Next Wave (“Two for the Show, 5/30, page 16), is 37. B&C misstated her age.

An item in Flash (5/30, page 5) mischaracterized Nielsen Media's response to a problem in its tracking of the viewing habits of Tivo users. Nielsen mistakenly said the 10,000-home sample of TiVo homes had to be rebuilt “from scratch” after a flaw was discovered in the way Tivo was collecting data. In fact, the original data from 7,400 homes was usable.

The Two and a Half Men photo in this week's Syndication (page 13) should be credited to Cliff Lipson/CBS.